By: Rylie Gittins, A Student at the University of Nebraska at Omaha, as part of Heather Nelson’s Service Learning Academy class
Let me tell you about North Omaha’s own legendary Beverly Blackburn. She lived her 37 years to the fullest leaving a legacy of compassion and love.
With her roots in North Omaha, Beverly Wead Blackburn Jones had a special place in her heart for all youth in the North Omaha community. She began her work at the age of 17 as a youth worker at Kellom Community Center in 1957. Little did she know, she would become the director of the center 3 years later at only 20 years old. Although she was doing her personal best providing for children in the area, Blackburn was determined to do more for her community that she loved and cherished (Fletcher).
John F. Kennedy Recreation Center
Despite the rioting and “white flight” of the 1900s, Blackburn was determined to have a place for children and teens to go at any hour needed. She wanted the kids of her community to have the chance to receive an education and most importantly to have a childhood. So, in 1965, she opened her own youth center, wanting to provide for the needs of those in her community, the John F. Kennedy Recreation Center. As the center director, she organized/planned all activities and trips for the kids to participate in. Some of the center’s features included:
- Multiple types of activity spaces
- Afterschool and summer programs
- Recreational, educational, and social activities
- Field trips around the city and to amusement parks
Through all of her hard work, patience, and compassion, Beverly Blackburn was able to give the many local children a sense of belonging that they may not have otherwise had. Her uplifting spirit and belief in each child continued to draw more and more kids into her center.
Unfortunately, the time of the JFK Rec Center had come to an end in 1970 and lived a glorious, life changing five years of life.
After the closing of the rec center, Beverly Blackburn’s advocacy for the youth did not stop (Fletcher). Later in 1971, she applied for a job at Horace Mann Junior High School. During her time there, she was a counselor, administrative intern, and assistant principal. As she worked for Omaha Public Schools, she used her platform to express to the city of Omaha how little there was for children and youth to do in the North Omaha area. No roller rinks, bowling alleys, indoor swimming pools…how did they expect the kids to have some fun? Because of her caring heart and genuine concern for the lives of the youth (Fletcher), she was not afraid to take action and make her voice heard. Bettering the lives around her was Blackburn’s beautiful, innate nature and something she would continue to do through all her life.
Other notable positions/contributions Blackburn made to North Omaha include:
- Owning her own beauty shop
- Hosting an annual beauty pageant for young women in North Omaha
Omaha Public Schools’ made an honorary decision to rename their alternative school after Mrs. Jones, called Blackburn Alternative Program. This made their purpose – to continue Blackburn’s legacy of believing in students when they may not have support elsewhere (Fletcher) – shine brighter.
Share below something you have done to support your community!
To learn more about Beverly Blackburn and the history of North Omaha, visit North Omaha History.